Although unlawful eviction is a criminal offence, many tenants have learned to their cost that it is a fat lot of good appealing to the police. Police action in the past has included:
- Saying it is a civil matter and nothing to do with them
- Pitching in and helping the landlord evict the tenant, and
- Moving the homeless tenant on
I was therefore pleased to see in Legal Action Magazine, a report where the police were brought to account for their inappropriate conduct (also ably reported here on the Nearly Legal blog).
Naughton v. Whittle and Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Manchester County Court, 30 November 2009
The story starts in March 2006 when Ms Whittle told her tenant Mr Naughton that she wanted him to go. When Naughton stayed on in the property, pressure was brought to hear on him by the landlords brother. Then on 11 April Ms Whittle physically accosted Naughton’s girl friend, wrenching the keys from her hand and injuring it.
Naughton then returned home to find the locks being changed. The police on being called, took the landlords side, threatened Naughton with arrest for breach of the peace, and physically removed him from the property after which the locks were changed.
He sued both the police and the landlord Ms Whittle.
The police did at least give in gracefully and settled the claim by paying £2,500 in respect of the claims made against them for trespass to person and land.
The claim against the landlord
The defence put in by Ms Whittle illustrates another legal misunderstanding, which landlords sometimes optimistically put forward as a legal rule. She said that Naughton had not paid any rent and that therefore he had not had a proper tenancy, just a temporary agreement pending negotiations for a real tenancy. Sort of like the Urban Myth I discuss here.
However the Judge was not having any of this. He found that the tenant had paid rent and that there was no question of any temporary agreement. He made the following award:
- £7,000 for general damages (£275 per day for the 28 days he was deprived of occupation) and
- £1,500 for aggravated damages
Total payable by Ms Whittle: £8,500.
The Judge refused to offset the £2,500 paid by the police saying that each ‘tortfeasor’ must pay the appropriate damages for the wrong they had done. So all in all
Total damages awarded to Mr Naughton: £11,000.
Not bad, but still not nearly as high as the award in the Cashmere v. Walsh case.